The Red-backed Fairywren (Malurus melanocephalus) is a striking small bird with a long tail that is held cocked. Belonging to the Australasian wren family, Maluridae, it is endemic to Australia.

They are often found near rivers and coastal regions, a range that stretches from the Kimberley in the northwest, across the Top End of the Northern Territory, through Cape York Peninsula and south through eastern Queensland into the Hunter region of New South Wales. They are found in grasslands and swamp areas, open forests and woodlands, especially where there is long grassy ground cover.

Red-backed Fairywren (Malurus melanocephalus)
Red-backed Fairywren (Malurus melanocephalus), Gold Coast, QLD

The male of the species have a magnificent breeding plumage, with a black head, upperparts and tail, brightly coloured red back and rump and brown wings. The non-breeding males and females are similar, both have pale brownish upperparts, paler underparts and brown tails.

There are two subspecies: the nominate M. m. melanocephalus of eastern Australia (has a longer tail and orange back), and the short-tailed M. m. cruentatus in northern Australia (has a redder back).

Red-backed Fairywrens feed on small insects and larvae, as well as spiders they find in the foliage of shrubs, trees, among grass and from accumulated leaf litter on the ground. They will eat seeds and other plant material, although this only makes up a small component of their diet.

These fairy-wrens are often seen in a group, with a colourful male in full breeding plumage, surrounded by brown females, non-breeding males and juvenile birds.

Their eggs are laid in a domed nest made from grass, bark strips and lined with feathers, fur, fine grass and rootlets. Whilst the female incubate the eggs, both parents and a band of helpers, help feed the nestlings.

Images © Dorothy L

  • Scientific classification
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Aves
  • Order: Passeriformes
  • Family: Maluridae
  • Genus: Malurus
  • Species: M. melanocephalus
  • Binomial name: Malurus melanocephalus
  • Subspecies:
    • M. m. melanocephalus
    • M. m. cruentatus

Footnote & References

  1. Red-backed Fairy-wren, BirdLife Australia,
  2. Red-backed fairywren, (last visited Aug. 12, 2021).